Saturday, September 4, 2010

Stand up double for small modular reactors

NRC and ANS announcements point to a brighter future for licensing innovative technologies

small reactorsTwo developments in the normally quiet week prior to the end of summer Labor Day weekend show the future of small nuclear reactors could be brighter than the past.

There’s a new point person at the Nuclear Regulatory Commission (NRC) on small modular reactors (SMRs). Also, the American Nuclear Society (ANS) released eight white papers on generic licensing issues.

A small modular reactor is defined by a power level in the range of 300-350 MW. See this World Nuclear Organization August 2010 briefing for details on designs and features.

NRC gets game

In a news release for Sept 1 the agency announced that NRC Commissioner George Apostolakis has asked the agency’s staff to take steps to improve the licensing reviews of potential applications from SMR vendors.

The objective is to produce a plan within six months that uses risk insights into pre-application activities and the potential review of small modular reactor applications.

“There is considerable interest in SMRs. The power level of these reactors would be significantly lower than that of existing reactors. Risk insights from PRAs could help focus resources on the most risk-significant aspects of a SMR design and enhance the safety focus of review guidance in the near term.” said Apostolakis.

The other four NRC commissioners including Chairman Jaczko joined Apostolakis in signing off on the initiative. See also a speech by NRC Commissioner William C. Ostendorff last June to a Platts conference on SMRs. The key NRC document to read to know what’s on the agency’s mind is a policy review of SMR licensing issues (SECY-10-0034) published last March.

ANS white papers available

white papersIt could be a coincidence, but the NRC’s action comes two days before the long-awaited release of eight white papers by the American Nuclear Society on licensing issues for SMRs. In a statement posted on the organization’s web site Sept 3, ANS said it has released the Report of the President's Special Committee on Small and Medium Sized Reactor (SMR) Licensing Issues.

The ANS statement said:

“The Society has taken a leadership role in addressing the SMR licensing issues because the licensing and eventual deployment of SMRs will lead to:

  • job creation
  • export of U.S. goods and services
  • benefits to national security and energy policy
  • reductions in greenhouse gas emissions.”
The SMR Report is available at the ANS website by clicking here (large PDF file).

Sanders ANS Immediate Past President Tom Sanders (left) established the ANS President’s ‘Special Committee’ earlier this year. Sanders directed the group to develop solutions to SMR generic licensing issues.

In addition to the eight papers released this week, ANS is writing another six papers that it will complete by November.

While the ANS is not directly engaging with the NRC on licensing issues, it has provided its white papers to the agency and the Nuclear Energy Institute. Sanders briefed NRC Chairman Jaczko on the papers earlier this year and the role of ANS. Sanders said in the ANS statement:

“The SMR Special Committee led the nuclear science and engineering community in organizing a forum for technical dialogue on SMR licensing issues.”

The entire suite of papers is a collaborative effort with the Nuclear Energy Institute (NEI), Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI), the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), and the International Atomic Energy Committee (IAEA).

ANS members on the committee participate as individuals and not as representatives of the SMR vendors, government agencies, or other organizations.

Prior coverage on this blog

  • 08/18/10 – NEI seeks consensus on licensing small reactors
  • 07/28-10 – ANS committee works SMR licensing issues
  • 06/22/10 – How to open running room for small reactors
  • 11/21/09 – Will the nuclear renaissance start with small reactors?
  • 06/26/09 – Change the NRC cost recovery rule for small reactors

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